You Don’t Know Jack–FRUIT! Meet South Asia’s Meat Substitute: Jackfruit

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By J. E. Hinners, MD MPH

The truth is that actually I didn’t know jack about jackfruit–until this morning, that is.

Mystery meat

I was eating one traditional Indonesian breakfast this morning consisting of spicy meats and rice (otherwise known as “rendang”) when I encountered yet again an unusual meat in the mix that was abnormally tender. I could have cut its fibrous strands with my finger, it was so soft. It nearly melted in my mouth and was full of juicy, meaty flavor. I had been eating this delicious mystery meat for a little over a month by now and looked forward to seeing it frequently appear on my breakfast table.

It had an odd appearance on my plate, however, as the “meat” appeared to be embedded with what looked like could have been an organized set of green gallstones or pituitary glands (<–I know, not very plausible, but slightly alarming, nonetheless).

I had tried to brush off my concerns about this appearance for over an entire month because the dish was so tasty. But then my curiosity finally got the best of me, as I couldn’t shake off the underlying fear that I was perhaps eating some kind of unidentified animal organ.

Well. At least I wanted to know which animal organ I was eating, if I was going to be eating it nearly every day.

After a bit of humility-requiring inquiries, I finally learned that what I was eating was not meat at all.

It was jackfruit–a fruit!

Jackfruit: What is it?

As you might be able to guess from the main article image above, jackfruit is the largest edible fruit to grow on trees and can reach a weight over 100 lbs. It is believed to have originated in India’s rainforests but is grown and eaten today in many other parts of South Asia (Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, and Indonesia). Jackfruit has also been found growing in certain African countries as well as Brazil, Mexico, the Caribbean, and even in some parts of U.S. Florida and California.

jackfruit up close
Jackfruit exterior

The fruit’s exterior appears green and spiky, while the raw interior consists of fibrous strands, seeds, and a milky white liquid that is used to make latex.

jackfruit interior
Jackfruit interior

The fruit is actually a member of the mulberry family and was once more widely cultivated than it is now. It is actually believed to be one possible food security solution, according to Northwestern University’s Nyree Zerega, because it is a highly nutritious perennial that doesn’t need lots of replanting, irrigation, and pesticides (unlike rice, corn, and wheat).

Jackfruit’s fruit and seeds are used for a variety of sweet and savory dishes, and the unripe, green jackfruit has a meaty, chicken-like quality that makes it a fantastic meat substitute (I was sure fooled!). The fruit tree’s bark, leaves, latex, and wood also serve to be useful in traditional medicines, timber, and other purposes.

What are the dietary benefits of jackfruit?

Jackfruit is high in carbohydrates and fiber and is also one of the unusual fruits containing B-complex vitamins (niacin, riboflavin, B-6, and folic acid). Jackfruit additionally provides vitamin C and vitamin A antioxidants as well as potassium, calcium, magnesium, manganese, iron, and protein.

Additional dietary information for jackfruit may be found here.

 In short, here are a few resulting health benefits:

  • Healthy source of energy
  • Good for your immune system
  • Supports bone and skin health
  • Natural laxative and promotes intestinal health
  • Helps stabilize blood pressure

Where to buy jackfruit

Well, that depends where you are currently living. If you’re somewhere in South Asia, then you’ll probably be able to find one in outdoor fruit stalls or indoor supermarkets.

But I’m guessing that – most likely – you don’t currently live somewhere in South Asia.

So your next best option is going to be either a gourmet market or else a Caribbean or Asian food market (such as in Chinatown, as is the case for some regions). Some food stores sell cans of young jackfruit in brine. It really depends on your region, but for specific answers to your area, it’s probably best to either Google it or else ask your local grocers.

How to cut jackfruit

As this jackfruit-cutting instructional video demonstrates, a lot of care is taken to guard hands, tools, and surfaces against the jackfruit’s sticky sap. There is also a helpful blog tutorial on how to cut a jackfruit here.

How do you eat jackfruit?

Jackfruit is delicious no matter how you eat it! Raw, sweet, and savory uses for jackfruit are limitless:

(**Emphasis on meat substitute here because if you’re a healthy eater, you’re probably always ready for new ways to eat healthy foods, and the remarkable meat-like flavor of boiled, young jackfruit is truly unusual and offers many creative cooking uses.)

So if you’re feeling adventurous and want to explore a bit by way of rather exotic and healthy foods, let the jackfruit tantalize your taste buds and cooking creativity this week!

 Got any experience with jackfruit? Buying, cutting, or cooking it? Do share, we’d love to hear about it!

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